Personal relations define your career: they can help get you into firms; decide who you end up working with; they can win or lose your firm clients. Whether you are a fan or not, law demands that you network.
Networking is a skill that every future lawyer needs to get to grips with. You might be worried about what to talk about in front of graduate recruiters or qualified solicitors, but it’s easy to become a networking pro with a little bit of preparation and practice.
So what’s it all about?
First of all, networking is not just about making social media connections. It can come in many different forms and can be organic, natural or formal. Essentially, it’s about getting to know people and building knowledge in a professional work capacity. Connecting and chatting with people over social media is fine, but nothing beats a face-to-face meeting to establish relationships and build trust for potential business or job opportunities.
Where to start?
Speakers and delegates regularly come together to discuss all things law – from how the industry is advancing to the latest developments. You name it, there will be an event somewhere in the world discussing that topic. In terms of employment, most of the bigger events have a full day set aside to help students progress further into the industry, and more often than not, it will be free for students to attend these events. Once you’re there, use the time to make useful contacts and business connections for the future – you never know where it might lead to. If the event isn’t directly related to a careers theme, you can still make a big impact during your time talking to people there. Whilst chatting, perhaps you could see if they needed some free admin during the summer holidays or a guest writer for their blog?
One of the biggest fears of networking is that you will ask a silly question and then suffer the embarrassment of their answer before you scarper away. However, if you do your homework beforehand, you’ll know who is there discussing which topics, and can arm yourself with great questions beforehand. Granted, it can be daunting, but a good question will make you stand out.
Even if someone can’t offer you a job, who’s to say that this person might not be able to offer you support and guidance in another role? Also, if you’re someone with a fresh pair of eyes, you may even be able to help them by ‘reverse mentoring.’ If you don’t network, and have the conversation, you’ll never know how you could help each other.
Breaking the ice
One of the worst parts about speaking to someone new is the fear of the unknown. However, having a pre-prepared soft opener, such as talking about the weather or the latest industry news, are great ways of breaking the ice until you really get in to a conversation.
Break the rules. What rules?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to networking. So if you feel more comfortable taking a friend or work colleague, ask them to go along with you for support. It might just give you the confidence to say something you wouldn’t ordinarily have had the courage to alone. It’s completely normal as even the most confident people can find this environment quite intimidating.
Be part of something
By attending networking events, you will often have the chance to be part of a bigger group. Join committees, volunteer on school outreach programmes and help organise events – being part of something bigger might just be the stepping stone you need for success. They will also help develop your planning, communication and teamwork skills, as well as looking great on your CV.